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Content Saving Strategies and Tools

Every day, all day, we are inundated with, and tasked with managing, various types of data. Links, pictures, videos, news, tips, reminders, work tasks, recipes, songs, articles, the list goes on and on.

While its true that we’re affected by this only as much as we allow it, if we look for some sort of coherent method of collecting and storing these atomic bits of information in a way that we can easily retrieve them, its not an easy job. There is a myriad of tools out there for doing things like this and sorting out which one is up to the task is key.

Lately, given the purchase of Instagram by Facebook, it has cast the idea of “free” and sustainable business models as a key factor in tool choice as well. The last thing any of us want is one of our favorite tools to be discontinued, deprecated, abandoned or, worse, bought by Facebook. I would rather pay a nominal fee for an application or service and know that they don’t need to need “being bought and ruined by a huge company” as part of their business plan.

So, in evaluating our tools, we have a number of factors which need to be looked at and then we need to take a best guess at which one we’re going to take a shot on. That said, there’s nothing wrong with changing tools if your needs change, or if the state of the tool changes. Actually, part of your evaluation should include the criteria for how easy it is to change tools, if you should need to – can you extract your data and move it, back it up, store it or convert it to a neutral format?

I’m going to go through the various ways I save different types of data below. They may not be the best choices for everyone but they’re all solid tools. I don’t meant this to be an in-depth review for all of the tool varations out there but I’ll include links to the tools that were among my choices so you can explore for yourself. If I missed any glaring ones, be sure to let me know on twitter.

Link Saving and Archiving

There are various ways to think about link-saving.

Some links are to articles you want to read at a later time, while some are just things you want to squirrel away. Also key to solving your choice of link saving tool is whether you need to search these links quickly and an examination of the sustainability of the service.

For reading articles later, my choice is Instapaper. While tools like Pocket are making some waves in the echosphere lately, Marco Arment’s Instapaper is the tool that has the clearest business model and the one that seems to be the most suited to my ideals in that it is sustainable through paid apps and subscriptions. (Pocket’s business model is a mystery to everyone except Nate Silver, its creator.)

Aside from business model, the tool is up to the task of saving and presenting any articles you want to read at a later date. There are dozens of apps across the entire Mac ecosystem that include Instapaper support (my site even includes “read later” links to Instapaper at the end of each article) and so tools like Tweetbot, Reeder and others allow you to save long-form reads to your Instapaper account easily and transparently. The recent update just solidified that choice in my mind and I’d recommend it over tools like Pocket and Readability.

The next way I interact with links is to just save them with useful search terms in case I need to find them again. I’ll save links to tweets, images, articles (that I already read but don’t need to read in the Instapaper app). Anything at all that can be found on the web really.

My tool of choice for that is Pinboard. While I’ve put off buying a Pinboard account for a year or so now, I recently pulled the trigger and have been really happy with the service. I paid extra for the archiving piece of the service, but I didn’t do that right away and I wouldn’t recommend doing that right off the bat. Use the service for a while and see how it fits with your workflow before paying the $25/yr to have all of your links archived.

For me, it serves the purpose of saving linked content admirably. I saved a link to the mobile site on my iPhone and I hooked up the optional email save feature which I’ve found I use constantly. For things that don’t support Pinboard natively (Reeder and Instapaper do), you can almost always choose “Send link via email” and the link will show up on Pinboard. You can optionally tag it and mark it private as well.

Pinboard’s owner is very clear about the sustainability of his business model and it is very easy to save and archive (or move) your data in case that ever changes. The choice was easy. The tool even got a plug on the latest “The Talk Show” and Brett Terpstra has been talking about the site for a long, long time. If you need validation outside of this article, you can do a lot worse than Gruber and Terpstra.

To sum up link saving, for saving and reading articles, go buy Instapaper. For saving everything else, sign up for Pinboard.

Saving and Sharing Photos

I loved Instagram. I felt it scratched an itch that was in sorely in need of scratching – a simple way to share photos with friends with a nearly-transparent interface on your mobile device. I am sad to see it go.

Yes, I know its not “gone”, per se, but for me, being bought by Facebook and its eventual integration into the Facebook ecosystem is a deal-breaker for me.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been searching for a replacement. Nothing has really risen above the static, unfortunately, and in the meantime, there are some things I’ve been trying out to see if they’ll fit the bill.

I have long-considered Flickr to be the best photo-sharing site on the internet. With their purchase by Yahoo (see “problems with business models”), they went on my “deathwatch list” and, indeed, the site has languished under Yahoo!’s mismanagement. You get the sense that the site is just lingering and eventually will be shuttered.

One thing that belies that is that Apple has chosen to include the sharing of photos to Flickr in the new version of iPhoto. This indicates two things to me – one is that Apple has no coherent photo-sharing strategy and, two, they feel like Flickr has a best-in-breed site to serve as a good base for the future. At this point, I find it hard to agree but, if that ever does become the case, I’d be happy because I’ve long been a supporter of the site.

With the introduction of the changes to iPhoto, I’ve started sharing to Flickr again but I’ve also been checking out sites like Droplr, Tumblr, Camera+, Mlkshk, Pinterest as alternatives. Unfortunately, the only concrete thing this search has yielded is a lack of vowels.

Droplr has a nice site, a handy Mac app which includes plug-ins to most of the applications you’d want to share from on your desktop, and iOS support. Tumblr seems like a good alternative for saving personal “likes”, whether that be photos you find on the internet, your own photos, or websites. The point of Droplr, however, is to give you a place to upload something and then save a standalone link that can be shared. It is great for saving photos on Twitter without having to give the world access to a personal photostream.

But part of my search for tools is that I want one place to store things, not a huge stable of them. I don’t want to find myself, five months from now, thinking “Did I save that to Droplr? Tumblr? Flickr? Camera+” etc.

To sum up my photosharing strategy, I am going to save all of my personal photos to Flickr. For photos that are one-off, I am going to share them to Droplr and post links to them as needed. Using Pinboard’s Twitter archiving, these links and their contexts, will be saved for posterity (and searching/archiving) on my Pinboard account. BOOM – strategy!

Note Taking

If you’ve been following this site for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a note-taking app fetish. Luckily, I’m not alone in this and Brett Terpstra (there’s that name again…) crowdsourced a comprehensive list of iOS text editors to help narrow down your search for the ultimate iOS note-taking tool.

There are many articles written out there about text editors and note-taking apps so I’ll just get to the point with this section.

For taking quick notes on my iPhone, I use Drafts. It has markdown support and can easily shuttle information to other applications and has earned its place on my Home Page.

For taking long form notes, editing documents in my Dropbox directory, and general text file manipulation on iOS, I use Nebulous Notes.

Since Nebulous Notes can’t search my Dropbox directory, it doesn’t take advantage of the fact that it basically serves a large personal database for me. When I need to search my entire Dropbox directory for something very specific, I use either the native Dropbox app, or Notesy. Since I’ve suffered some data loss with both Byword and Notesy on iOS while editing, I avoid them for that purpose.

For note-taking on the Mac, there is no other tool to consider beyond nvALT.

All of these applications use Dropbox as their text file repository and it functions as a day-to-day “database”. Between a combination of date sorting, a nerdy taxonomy and free text searching, I can get to any note I need.

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As this post is at 1700 words already, I won’t get into my choices in weather apps or location-broadcasting applications. I’ll save that for another day.

I hope I presented some choices in a context you hadn’t really considered before and shown you a few tools you hadn’t heard of. If you have any other good cross-platform, cross-application application strategies for themed needs like photography and such, please let me know either via the Contact page or on twitter.